kindness activist

kindness activist

Friday, June 26, 2020

Chalk It Up To Kindness

One of the primary purposes of Kindness Activist is to show how KINDNESS RIPPLES.  When people talk about kindness – share it with others – it ripples…  I believe that the people who hear about the kindness are subconsciously affected.  Kindness moves more to the forefront of their mind, and therefore, they are more likely to DO something kind.

But the recent ripple I witnessed was much faster and more intentional than I remember seeing!  It was a beautiful, sweet, ripple of KINDNESS!

Photo of original chalk art in the community (not the artwork that was washed away).  Photo credit unknown.
It all started with CHALK.  A family in my community (Arlington, Virginia) had chalked Black Lives Matter statements on their driveway.  Someone in the neighborhood was apparently offended by the chalk art, and they called in to report it and ask that it be removed. 

That someone would be offended by a child’s CHALK ART speaks volumes to how tense our society is right now.  Anyway, the county sent workers out and told them that they HAD to remove the drawings.  To add insult to injury, this all happened on June 19th (Juneteenth), th holiday that celebrates the day the slaves in Texas finally received the news that they had been proclaimed free 2 and a half years earlier.  And even worse, the county employees who were dispatched to erase the work were African American…  (Link to the story about the incident here: Washington Post story on this incident)

Chalk art on a sidewalk in Arlington.  Photo credit unknown.
As word got out throughout the neighborhood, people were livid.   Arlington is a very diverse and progressive community and this type of hatred and intolerance are not in tune with “the Arlington Way”.  So, neighbors reacted in an amazing manner – they went to the girl’s neighborhood and chalked and chalked and chalked!  Her artwork doubled, tripled, grew into many many many times larger than the original pieces as more and more families added to the messages.  People throughout Arlington joined in and chalked their own sidewalks and driveways.  It was a glorious show of support.

A simple and sincere message.  Photo credit unknown.
I wanted to help out, so we went to Target to buy some chalk sets to share.  I hosted a Kindness Yard Sale last summer where all proceeds raised went to spread kindness, and I had a little bit left in the “Kindness Bank”.  I bought all the sidewalk chalk Target had left – 3 sets.  I am guessing they had a big run on it after the Juneteenth incident!!

This was the only sidewalk chalk I cuold find at Target 2 days after the drawings were destroyed
Then I posted in a Facebook group asking who would like some chalk to write their messages of support.  I delivered the 3 sets of chalk – one to a neighbor I know who asked for some, and 2 sets to people I do not know.  At one house the mom told me it was going to be her daughter’s 6th  birthday soon.  She sent me this sweet message:  “Any chance you would be inclined to do sidewalk art with us on Wednesday?  Our girl is turning 6 on Saturday and we’re looking for creative ways to teach her some community members want the best for everyone."  I couldn’t join them in their drawing because I had to work, but was so honored to be invited.  At another house, the three little girls had come up with what they wanted to chalk, “We are all children of God” and draw a bunch of people holding hands.  More positive messages of equality!!

Let FREEDOM ring indeed!  Photo credit unknown.
But that is not the kindness I wanted to write about here.  What happened NEXT is what I love.  A person who I only know through a Facebook group sent me a message saying that she would like to help me spread the chalk messages.  She asked for my address and today, THIS CHALK ARRIVED via Amazon!  Isn’t that fantastic?  It was an immediate ripple!!!  Giving away chalk resulted in having MORE chalk to give away!  And that is perfect because tomorrow has been declared Chalk for Justice in Arlington and people are going to hit the pavement with chalk!!  I can’t wait to see the drawings and quotes.

(Edit - after I wrote and published this story, ANOTHER Amazon delivery came!  The kind stranger sent 3 sets of sidewalk chalk!!)
MORE CHALK TO SHARE!  Sent from a kind stranger.  
See how quickly the ripples can happen??  It doesn’t take tons of money (I only spent $30.74 on 3 sets).  It doesn’t take a lot of time (I just bought the chalk, posted about it, and delivered it to 3 houses).  It doesn’t take a lot of effort.  What it takes is heart.  Small acts of KINDNESS can cause big ripples.  Ripples that can reach out into the community and spread…  Spreading kindness everywhere they touch.

What can YOU do to start a ripple today?

Black Lives Matter.  Photo credit unknown

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Cards of Kindness

Look, I am not naïve enough to think that a little kindness can put a dent in solving what is happening in our country right now.  It feels as if the world is on fire and no amount of kindness can put it out at this point.  Only equality and justice can begin to right these wrongs. 

But today is the first time in over a week that I have been able to focus.  It is the first time I have been able to think of action instead of anger.  Of fighting instead of crying.  So, I thought maybe a tiny dose of kindness was in order and that it might shine a little candlelight in this dark world.

This is a kind act done by a Facebook friend of mine, Katie.  I have met her a couple of times in person, she and I are both interpreters (American Sign Language/English), but mostly we know each other from social media.  A while back she messaged me and ask for my mailing address.  She said she wanted to send me a “Covid Card”.  Curious (and a lover of mail), I replied with my address.

Katie and her dog Collins ("Rent" fans will recognize that name!)
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I found THIS in my mail!!!!

Isn’t it fabulous????  It brightened my day so much!  I asked Katie if I could write about her project here, in the hopes that it might inspire someone else to do something as cool as she did.  Here’s what she told me.

“I love mailing and receiving cards and letters. It can connect you with people you’d never imagine connecting with. I have been struggling with my anxiety and mental illness since the stay at home orders began a couple months ago. I thought it would be helpful for me, and hopefully others, if I were to reach out on an individual level to the people in my life.”

Ok, yeah Katie.  I adore mail.  Like, I literally used to walk down 3 or 4 flights of stairs twice a day just to check and see if I had any mail (and I rarely did).  But that doesn’t mean I thought, “Hey, Susan, why don’t you mail out over 500 Covid cards to people….”.  Yes – you read that right.  She sent out over 500 cards!!  She said she sent 503, but with the stragglers the total will be closer to 505 or 510.  She sent them all over America (Alaska, New York, California, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and all around the east coast). A few lucky people in in England, Ireland, and Australia got them, too!

A playful side of Katie at Niagara Falls
Katie likes to send cards to her friends and family for their birthdays, so this project sort of grew out of that.  She was writing out the birthday cards for March and April, then, “…I remembered how fun it is (to send cards) and how much I enjoy it. I also happened to find a BUNCH of stamps and friendship cards just that month, so I had a lot to get started on without much investment up front. It began as mainly the people I write to on their birthdays. I enjoyed it so much and people were responding SO kindly to the idea, I reached out to as many people as I could on Facebook. I’ve reconnected with a ton of people from my high school!”.

Of course I asked Katie the obvious question, WHY DID SHE DO THIS GRAND GESTURE??  “Partially for my own mental health, but more so for those around me. I thought about doing it for strangers, but the closest I got to that was making one for each person in my apartment building; I don’t know all of those people very well. But I’ve realized what I was really looking for was connections through kindness.”  That’s profound…  And, in the end, I think it is what all of us are looking for – connections through kindness. 

One thing I so admire about Katie is her honesty about mental health.  She doesn’t cloak her mental illness, she talks about it.  Her diagnoses are Bipolar 2 and ADHD.  I think openness like hers is so needed.  If more people were willing to be frank, there would be no stigma attached to mental illness.  When I asked her how she has been doing during Covid 19 she said, “To be honest, not that great. I’ve had a number of mental and physical side effects due to the increased anxiety and stress from being quarantined. My psychiatrist has had to change my meds, which did help, but I’m extremely extroverted, so I need those connections to be more present in my life.”  Isn’t it great that she found a way to make those connections without endangering her health??  US Postal Service to the rescue!!!

The newest Kindness Activist - Katie
But gestures this grand don’t come free….  So, how much DID she spend??  “Oh gosh, I’ve honestly been trying NOT to calculate it, because I’m afraid it’s a good bit, and I haven’t been able to work (the unemployment office thinks it’s paying me, but they haven’t started my payments from when I set it up in April!). But it’s $0.59 per stamp, and in averaging out the MANY sets of greeting cards I had, I maybe spent $1-$2 on each card for each person. So, that’s like almost $800. But as I mentioned, I found a bunch of cards and stamps for probably close to 100 people, so I (hopefully) spent less than that.”

“For my next project,” Katie told me, “I’m going to frame all the cards I’ve received in return and put them on my bedroom wall to remember that there are lots of people out there that I’ve had an impact on.”  Well Katie, my return card (which will include your official Kindness Activist pin and a donation for stamps) will be mailed soon!!!  Thank you for being a source of KINDNESS in the world.

And to everyone else reading, let’s take a tip from Katie.  Maybe we won’t mail 500 cards, but even 3 or 4 would brighten people’s days.  And we all need a bit of kindness these days.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Kindness During Covid (Kindness Yard Sale update!)

It is easy to get down these days.  Watching the news for any length of time means confronting the sad statistics of how many deaths have happened due to Covid-19, how much longer we are all going to be social distancing and/or stuck in our homes, and that a vaccine is a ways off.

So, instead of focusing on the sadness this evening, I am going to focus on KINDNESS.  Namely, how more funds from the 1st Kindness Yard Sale were used!  We raised a total of $1905.76 from the yard sale last summer (items were donated, shoppers paid whatever they wanted to with the understanding that every penny raised would be used for kindness) and from donations that came in after the sale.  I have given updates throughout the year on where all of the money has gone because I am want to make sure it is completely transparent, well accounted for, and that YOU read about the kind actions and get inspired to do some of your own!! 

So - here is the latest report:

·         $125 was used to buy $5 Starbucks gift cards for 25 people working on the front lines:  TRADER JOE’S EMPLOYEES!  Grocery store employees have had to work so hard during this pandemic to keep the shelves stocked, and the ones at our local Trader Joe’s do it with a smile (that you can’t see due to their masks…).  One afternoon in April I called to ask how many employees were working.  On the way to do our shopping, we bought the gift cards.  And before shopping I dropped them off in a bag with a thank you card at the customer service desk.  It was very fun!!  Lots of employees came and found us while we shopped to thank us for the gifts.  One employee even said the kind gesture had made her cry.  These are the awesome little kindnesses that can happen because of the yard sale!!

Ready to DELIVER GIFT CARDS and do a huge shopping trip!
·         $34.20 was used to help a homeless man get a fresh start living on his own.  My friend Kristi works at a homeless shelter and I was honored to volunteer there one night for their annual Christmas gift giveaway.  As we talked, she explained that as the people get housed, they should get a basket of goodies to help them begin their new lives.  But the shelter had run out of the supplies, so people getting housed were no longer getting them.  Well, I couldn’t imagine getting a brand new start in life and having NOTHING but the clothes are your back.  How successful can living on your own be if you have nothing – no plates, cups, salt, pepper, silverware, laundry detergent…  So, I went to a cheap store and filled up a cart with things I imagined would be helpful.  It was a very fun shopping trip!!!  I delivered the basket to Kristi, who later reported she had given it to a client and they were very happy to have the gifts.  Fingers crossed that they are doing well in their new home.

·         $36.15 was used to mail 2 packages.  I saw a woman in a military uniform in the Post Office parking as I was walking in.  She had 2 boxes that she was arranging.  After I paid for my items, I stepped aside (social distancing) and waited for her to tape up her boxes and have her turn.  As she was almost finished, I asked if I could use Kindness funds to pay for her shipping.  I couldn’t see her expression since we were both wearing masks, but her eyes glowed and she was very happy.  At first she thought it was too much, but as I paid she thanked me very much and said that her sister and the other recipient of the gifts she was mailing would be VERY HAPPY.  I took the opportunity to THANK HER FOR HER SERVICE.

·         $20 was used to support the My Job Bags campaign, which I read about on Facebook.  Here is the site’s description of the amazing project: “While the Coronavirus pandemic has closed schools in Arlington, children across the county continue to learn from home. Unfortunately, not all families are able to provide their children with the resources that they would have in a classroom setting. That's why we've established the My Job Bags campaign. A child's 'job' is to imagine, create, learn and play. We're working to assemble bags for children in need and to provide them with supplies to learn and be creative while at home. We're accepting monetary donations as well as donations of the supplies below that will be included in the bags. All money collected will be used to purchase supplies and the bags will be assembled and distributed by volunteers. Each bag will contain: crayons, pencils, pencil sharpener, spiral notebook, construction paper, blunt tip scissors, glue stick, dry erase board, marker and eraser, children's book, Legos, and bubbles.  Through bulk purchasing we've been able to lower the cost of supplies for each bag to approximately $6.50 per bag.”   So, the Kindness Yard Sale donation of $20 should help 3 kids get their Job Bags!!  If you would like to donate to this campaign, visit Go Fund Me - My Job Bags

The right supplies are essential!
·         $17.02 was used a couple of months ago to buy dinner for a family.  We landed at Regan National Airport very late one night.  Everything in the airport had closed and we were the last ones picking up our bags.  But a woman and her 2 children were sitting in the lobby, the kids watching a movie on a device that was plugged in and charging.  As we waited for our bags I went over to talk to them.  It turned out, they were CAMPING there for the night!  Their flight had been very delayed so they missed a connection and there were no other flight options, which left them stuck in DC for an ENTIRE DAY.  They had taken the metro (subway) into the city during the day, but now that it was night everything was closed.  They didn’t have enough money for a hotel room.  I offered to bring them home and let them stay at our house, but their morning flight was super early and only a few hours after we met them.  So instead of housing them, we got them dinner.  The McDonald’s near the airport was open and they were excited to have a hot meal.  We took the order, went and got it, and delivered it back to the airport.  I think that was Kindness money well spent.

The golden arches
·         $20 was used to buy dinner for a homeless man in a parking lot.  My partner and I were traveling and had just eaten at a tasty little place in the south that had amazing biscuits.  As we were getting in the car I noticed a man with a backpack.  Attached to the backpack was a MAT made by weaving together plastic bags.  I had read about the mats but never seen one, so we asked him about it.  He said he had made it himself and that it was very helpful in keeping dry and more comfortable when lying on the pavement.  He was really sweet.  We told him the restaurant was delicious and gave him $20 to go in and eat.  He was very thankful.  If you would like to learn more about the mats made from plastic bags, here is an article with instructions:  Turn Your Plastic Bags Into Sleeping Mats

·         $25 was used to buy a grocery gift card for a family whose mom, one of the primary earners, was out of work because she got Covid-19.  She was on the recovering end of the illness but was still not able to work and they were running out of food.  Luckily, the community rallied around them and made sure they got through.  They were so appreciative of the gift card.

I have a couple of other kindness projects in the works – funds have been used to get supplies but because of the pandemic I cannot carry the plans out yet.  (For example, one is for a Department of Motor Vehicles office, and I don’t think this would be a good time to spread kindness there, even if they are open!). 

We have $103.89 from the Kindness Yard Sale left to be used.  I would like YOU to choose where the next $50 goes!!  Please comment below with an idea that is $50.  Voting will be by how many “likes” “loves” or other reactions each idea gets.  I will count the votes and use the $50 at 10:00 pm EST on May 9th.  So please, comment with your ideas!!

$50, waiting to be used for KINDNESS!
(And yes, that IS Harriet Tubman's face on that $20.  I fixed it.)
I am starting to dream of the 2nd Kindness Yard Sale.  I hope that things calm down in our community before too long and that there are items left to be donated (everyone seems to be cleaning out closets and basements and attics while they are stuck at home!).  If you live in Arlington, VA and have things to donate for the sale I would LOVE them.  I would love it even more if you could store them until we know when we can have the sale 😊 .

Thanks so much for being a part of this grand experiment.  It brings me joy, and I hope it does you, too.   Now get out there and be KIND.  But social distance!  And wear your mask!!!  #KindnessActivist  #ALittleKindnessCanGoALongWay  #KindnessDuringTimesOfPandemic

Monday, March 16, 2020

Holidays in Times of Turmoil

Holidays are usually fun times.  But it seems like this year St. Patrick’s Day is going to be a bit of a downer.  I mean, how much can you celebrate if you are self-quarantining, or keeping your “social distance” from others to try and curb the spread of the Corona Virus?? 

But a creative neighbor (Caitlin) just forwarded THIS to me:

BRILLIANT!!!!  Let’s DO IT!  Make a shamrock (or 2 or 3 or 10….) and hang them in your windows, or your doors, or on your porch.  Then kids and their parents can take a walk or ride around the neighborhood and see how many they can find!  I mean, most everyone is home schooling these days due to school closures, and this activity could count as several subjects:
1.       Obviously, ART.  😊  Have your children make shamrocks and hang them.
2.       No brainer, MATH.  Count how many you find!  For more advanced students, make up some   word problems based on the hunt.  Here are some examples:
a.  If Joe finds 5 shamrocks in his neighborhood, and Kate finds 7, how many shamrocks did they find all together?
b.  If Kelsey finds 12 3 leafed shamrocks and 3 4 leafed shamrocks, how many sides total are on all of her shamrocks?
c.  If Jarod finds 28 shamrocks, but 6 of them were YELLOW and he was only counting GREEN ones, how many green shamrocks did he find?
3.  History – study St. Patrick’s Day, how it came about, and what it means.
4.  PE - if you WALK around the area on your hunt, your kids will also be getting exercise!

I will be making some shamrocks tonight and putting them up for passersby to count in my neighborhood.  Here is a pattern I will use, feel free to use it or to Google “shamrock patterns” to find others.

If you decide to participate, make sure your neighborhood knows so they can join in the fun!!  Share, share, share away.

Let’s make learning fun and do a little something special for St. Pat’s 2020!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Wipes of Kindness

The world is in a state of panic.  Covid 19, the Corona Virus, is spreading at a very rapid rate it what seems to be every corner of the world.

But I don’t need to tell you that.  Newspapers, television, emergency alert texts, and social media are covering the illness and the repercussions of it extensively.  The markets are crashing, there are not enough test kits, flights are being cancelled, people are being quarantined, and “social distancing” is the new norm.  Trying to keep up on it all feels like trying to drink from a fire hose.

But one thing is clear – people are panicked.  And when people panic, kindness often goes by the wayside.   Humans are hard-wired to take care of THEMSELVES and their FAMILIES/FRIENDS first.  It is why wars happen.  It is why people say, “blood is thicker than water”.  And, I guess ultimately, it is why many are hoarding essentials at the stores – toilet paper, dairy, eggs, fresh produce, hand sanitizer, etc.  Seeing someone push a cart loaded with the last 20 packages of toilet paper down a grocery aisle, refusing to share even one roll with another shopper, appears to be self-preservation in a comically absurdist extreme.

So, in this time of fear and panic, when an act of kindness appears it seems extra special.  I will be highlighting some of those kind acts in this blog so that you, too, can read them and be inspired that there is still kindness in the world.  And who knows, you may be so inspired that you spread a little kindness yourself, even if it is spread from the confines of your quarantined home.

Here is today’s installment of Kindness During a Pandemic.  This one is called, “WIPES OF KINDNESS”.

My sweetheart and I have been on vacation in St. Kitts (an island in the Caribbean).  We were there 7 days and tried to semi unplug ourselves from the news.  Of course, since the situation with the Corona Virus is so serious, we DID watch a bit of news while there and read some articles. 

It was while we were there that the situation became very serious in the US.  Universities and schools started to close.  Social distancing became a thing.  And all hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes disappeared from the shelves.  Actually, I guess the run on hand sanitizer and wipes happened right before we left, because I couldn’t find any of those the night before our flight to bring with us (and ended up bringing the only alcohol wipes we had at home, which we POSTAGE STAMP size 😊 ). 

When we were preparing to fly home (which included considering staying THERE…), I realized that since St. Kitts was just NOW starting to feel the impacts of the disease, I might be able to score a bottle of hand sanitizer and some wipes to bring home in our luggage.  So, we ran to the little grocery store.  They had wipes, but the hand sanitizer was already sold out.  We bought one container of wipes and packed them.

Think about that last paragraph.  How self-centered could I be???  “Since St. Kitts was just now starting to feel the impacts…”.  Basically, that is me saying, “Since I know how important these wipes are already and how I will not be able to get them in my home country, I will buy THEIRS here, precluding them from getting some”.  It’s so embarrassing seeing it spelled out here, but that is exactly what I did. 

But wait, my behavior gets worse…

I packed the wipes in my carry-on with a plan of wiping down our airplane seats, hand rests, and tray tables.  And when we got on board our first flight, we did just that.  I considered, for a brief second, asking our seatmate if he would like a wipe, but my brain said, “NOPE!  Think of yourself first!  Susan, you need these wipes!!  All of them!  You won’t be able to find any at home!!!”.  So, I followed my head and quietly repacked them in the carry-on before take-off.

Lucky for the rest of the plane, a woman 2 rows ahead of us was not so selfish. 

She had a package of wipes the same size as mine.  She took one or two out, wiped down her area, then said in a very loud and cheerful voice, “WIPES!!!  I HAVE WIPES HERE!  DOES ANYONE NEED A WIPE TO CLEAN THEIR AREA???”.

People.  Were.  Shocked.  I heard a guy behind me say, “Why is she doing that??  She could sell those things and make a lot of money!!”.

At first, people didn’t really understand or believe her generosity.  She had to clarify, “No!  Seriously!  We all should wipe down, here, take some and pass this back.  Everyone – feel free to use these wipes!!”. 

She was so kind!!!!!  “Thanks!” rang out as people took a wipe and passed the container back.

And just like that, I was reminded. 

Even in times of chaos.  In times where it seems like self-preservation is the only thing we can do.  There are other choices.

We can be kind.

I will use that woman as a model for my behavior in the coming weeks.  Things with the virus will very likely get much worse.  But if we can keep our heads clear and remember that KINDNESS MATTERS, we can help one another get through it.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

It Takes A Village To Keep Warm

The last five years I have put up what I call “Project Warmth” on the front gate of our house.  We live on a very busy corner – cars drive by all hours of the day and night, and there are often people on foot and bicycle who pass, too.  I learned through experience that some of those who walk past are homeless.  And many who walk by, though they may have a roof over their heads, are barely making ends meet.  So, things like thick coats, warm sweatshirts, cozy hats and scarves, and a nice pair of mittens or gloves for themselves or their children are sometimes not possible.  They make do with what they have, even in the middle of a cold winter.

So, to try and help out with that problem, for “Project Warmth” I hang cold weather gear on our front gate.  There are signs (both in English and Spanish) telling passersby that the items are free for the taking, and that they should pass them along to someone else when they no longer need them.

View of Project Warmth from our front porch - every morning when I wake up the first thing
I do is see if there are still items hanging out there!
The first couple of years I did this project I worked from a large box full of sweaters that my dad had cleaned out of his (huuuge) sweater collection.  I also had some coats and hats I had collected to give to homeless people in DC.  Those items, coupled with a some of our own things that we wanted to give away, got us through the cold weather giving season.  But this year, even though I cleaned out my closets and baskets full of hats and gloves, I didn’t have enough to keep the gate supply going.

So, I leaned on my neighbors.  I posted in a neighborhood “Buy Nothing” group and asked if people had items to contribute.

And boy did they!  I have received donations of very, very warm coats.  Of brand-new hats and mittens.  Of scarves and gloves and every color and size.   There have even been gorgeous HAND KNIT pieces donated!!  And, unlike the normal set up in the Buy Nothing group, instead of me driving to the giver’s house to pick the items up, many people dropped them off right at my house!! 

It has been incredible.  Instead of having just 1 item on the fence at a time, this year I have been able to put out 3 at a time!!  Usually the gate gets cleared off twice a day (sometimes I put items out at midnight and they are gone when we wake up!).  I am so grateful to my neighbors for being kind and generous.  With the community’s support, we have helped people stay at least a little bit warmer this winter.

The bin of warm donations for the front gate is OVER FLOWING, and that is after
giving many, many away already!  
It takes a village.  And I am honored to be a part of mine.

(Here is a piece I wrote about Project Warmth in 2016:  Project Warmth - Warm Kindness

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Look Up

Life lessons sometimes come in tiny pieces.

Today I learned – don’t look down, look UP.

The past couple of days I have been sad, really missing my sissy Annette.  My other sister, Sherry, and I really felt like we got a couple of “messages from the great beyond” from Annette when Sher and I were together recently in DC.  But after Sherry went back home, I felt alone.  No sisters, no messages. 

So, I decided that there HAD to be a message, I was just MISSING it.  The universe didn’t want me to be sad, I reasoned, I just need to FIND THE MESSAGE.  And (because I am apparently the controller of all things coming from the great beyond…) I decided that the message would be in the form of a painted rock. 

So, I walked around for a few days with my head down – looking at rocks.  I turned rocks over (“Surely the OTHER side is painted!” I would think.  Then flip the rock.  Only to be disappointed twice – by the same dumb rock.)  As I continued to hunt, I quickly grew frustrated.  Almost no one in my area paints and hides rocks.  “Maybe this Spring I will find her message on a rock…” I thought, then quickly counted an imaginary calendar in my brain and realized how far away Spring is.  Sigh. 

Only, you see, that’s not how messages WORK.  You can’t WILL them to appear.  You can’t wish and hope and squeeze your forehead so tight in concentration that BAM – the message is there.

Instead you have to open your heart.  Your soul.  And your EYES.

Today I spent the day playing tourist in my own city.  I had a fabulous day.  It was very warm out and I walked and walked and walked.  I treated myself to several outdoor sculpture gardens.  I breathed in the sunshine.  And I took a stroll around the Hirshhorn, a fantastic art museum in DC.  I looked at the current exhibits listed on a sign and set my sights on seeing the Marcel Duchamp work.  I don’t know why I picked that one, I have no particular affection for Duchamp.  But I moseyed around the museum looking for that exhibit. 

And right before I found what I was hunting for, I looked up to see this – a painting by Alberto Giacometti. 

My Message
I examined it.  I enjoyed it.  Then I looked at the plaque to read about it.

"Annette", by Alberto Giacometti 
The painting’s name is ANNETTE.


There it was – my message.  She was there.  She was smiling.  And of course, I smiled too.  And when I told my sister Sherry about my message and showed her the photos, she pointed out that not only was the painting the same NAME as our sister, it was painted the SAME YEAR OF HER BIRTH, 1961!!

I spent the rest of the day looking up.  Rocks were under my feet, and maybe I passed a message or 2 painted on them and didn’t see, who knows.  But I had gotten my message.  In fact, I got a second one when I looked up to double-check my item on a menu board and realized the café I had chosen to eat at today was called “The 3 Sisters”.

Today’s life lesson seems easy but was tough to figure out.  LOOK UP.  You can’t “will” things your way, but if your eyes are pointed the right direction, you won’t miss the messages.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

One Gift of Kindness

My sister Annette always told me about an annual Christmas event that she loved to help with.  It was a gift giveaway at the Sienna Francis House, a homeless shelter in Omaha, Nebraska.  Her friend Kristi works there and Annette had gone to help out at the Christmas event a few years.

Well, Annette died last week.  And at her Celebration of Life service, her friend Kristi mentioned that the shelter’s Christmas event was the next day.  “Sign me up,” I said.  I knew that the event was something I would be inspired by, and more than that, I felt a “duty” to take the volunteer spot left vacant by my sister’s passing.

When I got to the shelter I was assigned the job of NUMBER CALLER.  Each guest would come in, fill out a form listing their name and age, and if they had children under 12 years old, the kids’ names and ages.  Then each guest would be assigned a NUMBER.  I was in charge of sort of managing the traffic flow by hollering, “Numbers 1, 2, and 3 please!!”.  When those 3 guests came up, I would wish them a Merry Christmas and show them where to go to find cookies and someone to help them pick out a gift.  Then a few minutes later, “Numbers 4, 5, and 6 please!”. 

Then gifts were all donated and wrapped by a local church.  Members from the church were there to help the guests pick out a gift.  There was a big poster listing the possible gift choices.  For men, things like wallets, long underwear, sweatshirts, cologne, socks, pants, watches, etc.  For women the same types of things.  All gifts were wrapped and placed on tables by category and size, if necessary.  It was very well organized.

The guests ate dinner and were surprised by Santa and Mrs. Claus!  Mrs. Claus gave each person a Christmas ornament to bring over to the gift giveaway (the ornaments served as a type of ticket for entry).  So as soon as the first people finished dinner, our CHRISTMAS GUESTS BEGAN TO ARRIVE!

Women came first.   It was nice to see them arrive for this special event.  There was such a diverse group of women – old, young, African American, white, big, little…  And they all seemed very happy to have this special night.  One woman showed me the gift she had picked out for her 4 month old child – a very sweet little stuffed puppy toy. 

Then came the men.  Again, such a diverse group of people!!  There were several in wheelchairs or using walkers.  Young, old, clean, messy.  There were 3 or 4 Deaf guests and one in particular was very excited to have a volunteer who could communicate with him in ASL!  It was super fun to be able to chat with him and also be able to interpret and facilitate his communication in choosing the perfect gift!!

In this time of excess, this event really made me think.  Each guest received ONE GIFT.  One very practical gift, things they needed and could really use.  And that ONE GIFT made many of them smile so big.  They were surprised and delighted that this Christmas would bring them ANYTHING.  Many had a hard time choosing…  When you have to make a decision between a backpack or long underwear, that is a hard choice to make.  There was one table of little things that anyone could take, an extra small gift as it were.  The 2 people I watched go through both had their eyes light up when they saw little manicure sets – nail clippers, nail scissors, etc.  They were so excited to get those!!!  One man exclaimed, “I AM GOING TO TRIM MY BEARD!!”. 

So, this week, as you are fretting over whether you have bought enough gifts for your children or if the sweater and necklace for your mom will be enough, take time to pause and be grateful. 
There are people in this country who have NOTHING.  And then there are the lucky 278
guests at Sienna Francis House who now have their very own gift (and maybe even a nail
clipper) and are pleased as punch.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Roses, Botas, and MUCH MORE (Kindness Yard Sale Update)

I am pleased to report that more of the money raised at the Kindness Yard Sale has been used to spread kindness!!  Here is an update:

-          $7.99 was used to buy roses.  But not just ANY roses, special roses for a man in hospice to give his wife.  We know them just as the “puzzle couple”, because we always see them sitting at a table in the common room at the hospice putting puzzles together.  They saw us working on another project that I am going to use Kindness Yard Sale money for (I have not done it yet…) and asked what we were doing.  I explained it had to do with roses, and the woman smiled.  The man said that he didn’t want any flowers, thank you very much.  So, I said, “Well, what if I gave you a flower for you to give to your WIFE???”.  That idea seemed to make him happy!  His wife looked at me and deadpanned, “Well, if that happened, it would be the THIRD time in 51 years he gave me flowers!  The first time was when our first child was born.  I stayed in the hospital for 2 days and when he came to pick me up the flowers were dying.  He said they were a WASTE OF MONEY!  So, for the next baby, he bought me a PLANT.  He only gave me flowers one other time, for a Valentine’s Day”.  They are a very sweet couple and I knew it would make her happy to get flowers from her sweetheart one more time, so I picked up these roses.  I had him write her a note and tied it to the flowers.  He told me to leave them on the puzzle table where she would be sure to see them.  She was excited to be treated (and he seemed proud to be able to spoil her a bit, I am sure she is the one usually doing all of the caretaking since HE is the patient).

3rd time's a charm - 3rd time to give his wife flowers in 51 years

-          $42.09 was spent on boots, 2 hats, 1 pair of mittens and 1 pair of gloves.  This kind act was actually hard to pull off!!!  I am living in Omaha temporarily and it is very cold.  There has already been ice and snow.  I decided that I really wanted to use some of the kindness money to outfit a child for winter – coat, hat, snow pants, boots, whatever they needed!   With most of the other kind acts in this project, I have tried to not make them “need based” – because everyone loves to receive kindness, no matter if they NEED it or not!!  But for this particular one, I really hoped to find someone who NEEDED respite from the cold temperatures. 

      So, I headed to Walmart to try and find someone shopping for a coat.  But even though I strolled around and around that store for an hour, NO ONE was shopping for coats!  No one in the men’s, women’s, kid’s or baby sections!  I tried again another night at a different Walmart.  Then again at a Target.  Then a 3rd Walmart!  I told my sister that apparently EVERYONE in Omaha already has a coat, because no one seemed to be shopping for them!!  But one night I finally found two little someones one that needed warmth.  

      A man, woman, and two little girls were walking through Walmart.  They were speaking Spanish and I saw them looking at warm work gloves for the father.  I noticed that both little girls had on old, dirty coats, but no hats.  In fact, the smallest girl was BAREFOOT. 

It was a freezing cold night, and this little child had naked, dirty feet.  It made me so sad. But             those little girls were not sad!  Quite the opposite, they were having a very fun time out 
shopping with their parents.  They giggled and ran and played while their parents shopped.

I wasn’t quite sure how to ask if I could buy the kids hats.  It wasn’t only the linguistic barrier – I wanted to make sure the parents felt RESPECTED and not pitied.  I picked up a couple warm hats that I thought the little girls might like.  One came with a pair of gloves, and I grabbed a matching set of mittens to go with the other hat.  Then I found some courage and went over to the family.  I only have rudimentary Spanish, so I could not really ask them properly if it would be ok for me to buy them the hats and mittens.  But I asked in English and a bit of broken Spanish, then gestured a lot and showed them the items.  The little girls’ eyes lit up!  They look at their mother for permission, and she smiled at me and nodded “yes”.  I told them (gestured…) to stay where they were and I would go buy the items and bring them back to them.  Which is exactly what happened!  I bought them, found the girls, and sat down with them right there in that Walmart aisle to take all of the tags off of their new stuff!  They put those hats and mittens/gloves right on and gave me 2 very big smiles!  It was beautiful!!

Pretty PINK winter wear

But that left the more obvious problem to deal with – the tiny barefoot girl…  She needed boots for winter, but I didn’t want to make her parents feel bad for bringing her out in public with no shoes on.  But I decided I couldn’t ignore it, and gestured to her feet and asked, “Boots??  Yes??”.  The mother smiled again and nodded, and I gestured to the girls to FOLLOW ME!!  The 3 of us marched Pied Piper-like to the shoe department.  They were all smiles and big eyes.  I asked the mom which size and we narrowed down our search to that size.  I started with SHINY PINK ones, which the little girl seemed happy with.  But I didn’t want her to take the 1st pair I put in front of her – I wanted HER to pick her new boots!!  Eventually she spied these tan Ugg-style boots and pointed to them.  She and I sat down on the floor again and I put her dirty, naked little feet into those soft boots.  She smiled and modeled them.  Then we repeated the routine – they wait, I buy, I return.  I told the mom I knew the word “zapatas” for “shoes” in Spanish, but what was the word for “boots”?  “BOTAS!” the mom and girls gleefully told me!!!

As I finished my shopping I saw my new friends giggling in an aisle, new botas and all.

 -  $5 was left on a bathroom wall!!  I met a friend for brunch at a hip Denver restaurant called “The Corner Office”.  After dining on delicious red velvet waffles, I excused myself to go to the restroom.  There I found this great wall full of colorful sticky notes, and extra sticky paper and pens to leave your own note!  Perfect!  So, I hung this:  I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall when someone found it and seen what they decided to use it for.

FUN bathroom!

I wonder who found it...
   -  $51.04 was used to help make an immigrant’s Christmas more joyful.  My sister is living in a hospice house, and the cleaner there named Angelique is a sweet, elderly African woman.  She doesn’t speak much English, but always has a nice smile.  One day I figured out from the accent she has when she speaks English that perhaps FRENCH is her native tongue.  I called my sweetheart (who is fluent in French) and he played on-phone translator for me and Angelique!  She was so excited when he spoke French to her! 
She is from Congo and has no family here.  She told me, “You are my family”.  She does not interact much with the other staff or guests here that I see, and I imagine she may be quite lonely in America by herself.  So, I got a $50 gift card to Walmart and a nice card to surprise her!  Walmart is very near the hospice house and I bet she shops there sometimes.  I hope her holiday season is a little bit brighter because of this kindness.

A sweet gift for a sweet woman
- $5 was used to “help kids that don’t have moms and dads”.  My friend Tanya has two adorable little boys, and one of them, Sam, posted a plea video on Facebook. 

I mean, after seeing THAT, how could I NOT share some of the kindness money with him??  He was doing a super kind thing of HIS OWN!!!  Sam surpassed his monetary goal and is well on his way to being an amazingly kind human.    

-          $20 was donated to help a woman rebuild her café after everything for it was stolen.  Her name is Sandra Rivers and she is a CODA, child of Deaf adults.  She had a dream to build a café where Deaf people could socialize and there would not be linguistic barriers.  Her own parents have died, but she wanted to build “Deaf Delight” for other Deaf people.  Just 3 days before her insurance for the business started, she was robbed of everything.  She has not given up her dream, but she used her life savings to buy the equipment that was stolen, so is hoping to fundraise money to start over. 

-          $5 was used to purchase then donate a handmade bead that will be used in the “Beads of Courage” program.  I had never heard of the organization before but they had a booth set up at an art event that we went to and they sound amazing!  Participating hospitals give each child who has to undergo procedures (pokes and sticks) a handmade bead for each procedure!  Kids who have very serious illnesses have looong strings of beads!  The children can play with them, wear them, or just use them as a symbol of comfort and strength for all they have been through.   See more about this unique program here:  Beads of Courage website

-          And finally for this report, $41.07 was used to “Be a Santa to a Senior”.  A grocery store had a Christmas tree with paper ornaments adorning it.  Each ornament had a “wish list” from a senior citizen of what they would like for the holiday.  I looked the wishes over and decided to choose Paul.  His wants were very simple – a book and one white t-shirt.  

Tree of Senior wishes
      On the other ornaments people were hoping for things like iPads and DVD players, but Paul must be a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures.  I liked that!  And I figured, since he didn’t ask for much, I should spoil him a bit…  So instead of ONE white t-shirt, he got a whole pack.  Plus the book he wanted (which looks good by the way).  Plus a box of chocolates.  Plus 2 fancy candy canes.  HAPPY HOLIDAYS PAUL! 

Paul is a man who knows what he wants.
Another $10 donation came in (thanks!!!), bringing the total raised for Kindness from the yard sale and donations to $1565.76.  $24.26 of that remains to be used, and there is a bit that has already been used but not written about here yet!  If you would like to help this project continue, donations of any amount are appreciated.  You can PayPal them to: or contact me at . 

I hope this project inspires YOU to go out into the world and spread kindness.  Because every little bit makes the world a better place.